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Snap, Crackle, Pop Time: What it is and how the Twins' Catchers Fare

mitch garver ryan jeffers alex avila
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#1 David Youngs

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 02:08 PM

Let’s close our eyes for a second to forget about the pitiful season that Mitch Garver has had at the plate so far this year. While his numbers on offense aren’t pretty there’s one stat of Garver’s (and most catchers) that hasn’t come to light until recently; Pop Time (POP). Let’s dive into what POP is, why it’s important, and how Mitch Garver, Alex Avila...and Ryan Jeffers stack up to the rest of the MLB.It’s no secret that Mitch Garver has had a ‘character building’ 2020 season so far. Despite coming off a Silver Slugger season where he batted a career-high .274 with 31 HR and 61, Garv Sauce has hit rock bottom at the plate this year with his .154 AVG. To make matters worse, his campaign to turn things around was put on hold this week when he was placed on the 10-Day IL for a right intercostal strain.

But if there’s any position that has dual roles in baseball it’s the man behind the plate. The defense of a catcher can make or break a play, inning, or game. In an era where catchers like Molina, Posey, and (2019) Garver have given light to a position not typically known for offense, the defensive lore of the ‘quarterback of the diamond’ is often forgotten.

One of the most important of those defensive roles may be Pop Time (POP). To put it simply, POP is measured when there is a steal/pick off attempt and measures the time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher's mitt to the moment the intended fielder is projected to receive his throw at the center of the base. Check on the Statcast description and definition.

Seems like a pretty basic stat, how is this new?

In theory it certainly is pretty simple. And it’s not something that is technically new. Coaches and scouts have been timing catchers’ throws down to second (and third) base since sliced bread was invented. However, POP did not become an official recorded stat until March of 2018when the MLB debuted Pop Time numbers thanks to the wide world of Statcast.

Since 2018 MLB has kept track of pop time of every catcher across the league. And while the stat wasn’t technically recognized until 2018, the database features pop times dating back to 2015.

Okay, what does POP look at and why is it significant?

POP combines three dynamics of the catcher’s skill set; How quick his footwork is (to get into throwing position), how quickly he exchanges the ball from his mitt to his throwing hand and how fast he throws the ball (in mph).

Of those three components the first two (footwork, and exchange from mitt to hand) are combined into “Exchange” on the stat list. The speed of the throw is measured as arm strength and listed under “Arm.”

There’s a lot that goes into gunning down a runner at second base, especially if that runner has Buxton-like speed. Certainly a catcher with a cannon of an arm is going to toss out his fare share of runners. But POP factors in one of the most crucial parts of being a successful catcher; quick transition time.

A catcher who has a gun of an arm but is slower than molasses is going to be less attractive and oftentimes less successful than a catcher who has weaker arm strength but can float like a butterfly behind the plate.

Still, throwing out a runner is very difficult. The Major League average for catcher pop time in 2019 was 2.01 seconds. J.T Realmuto of the Phillies had the best pop time average last season, sitting at 1.89 seconds. 92 runners attempted to steal on Realmuto in 2019 and he threw out 43 of them; a crazy good number. Still, that's only a 46% success rate.

What POP really covers is how well the catcher covers his leg of the relay race. Even if the catcher has a cannon and is very quick the throw could be off target, the middle infielder could make a poor tag, or the base runner could just be too damn fast.

So how do Garver, Avila, and Jeffers stack up?

To be frank, not too great. With the Diamondbacks last season Alex Avila averaged a 2.01 pop time, ranking him 31st in the league (minimum 10 attempts). Garver averaged a 2.04 pop time last season, ranking him 37th in the MLB.

While Jeffers does not have MLB numbers out for POP yet his 2020 scouting report indicates that he has a strong arm and improved quickness, throwing out 26% of runners last season in AA Pensacola.

When it comes to arm strength Garver holds a slight advantage over Avila, averaging 82.9 mph compared to Avila’s 81.5 mph. However, Avila holds the title of quicker catcher, averaging a 0.74 second Exchange compared to Garver’s 0.78.

Big Picture

How much does it matter that the Twins’ catchers don’t fare well when it comes to POP? Well, it depends on how much of a perfectionist you are. Baseball is a game of inches and the extra tenths of a second on someone’s POP can certainly change a big game.

But at the end of the day let’s keep in mind that the gap between league POP leader Realmuto and Mitch Garver is .15 of a second; that is a sliver of an amount of time.

While POP is certainly an important stat when it comes to recruiting, scouting, and measuring the level of a catcher, there are still so many other factors that go into stealing a base. And even though Avila has the better POP for the Twins, don’t expect it to push him over the edge to become the Twins starter.

That decision will come down to the health of Mitch Garver and if he is able to pick up his offense.

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#2 jkcarew

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 04:43 PM

Nobody steals anymore. In 2019, there was less than one successful attempt per game...and barely over one attempt per game. Teams don't build around speed...they build for power. Even 2nd basemen weigh 200+ pounds now and hit home runs. And if they aren't, and don't, the next guy in the batting order does. 

 

I'm not saying I like it. But just give me a catcher that's a good receiver...and can hit.


#3 PDX Twin

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 06:19 PM

What you say is exactly the reason why now would be the time to build a team around speed. Everyone else is into homeruns, so they are not worrying about pitchers and catchers who can control the running game. A team that is built for speed should do well in that environment. It's kind of like having a good running game when everyone else is focusing on defending the pass.

Triples are more fun than home runs; stolen bases are more fun than strikeouts; singles are more fun than walks.


#4 Linus

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 09:01 PM

I think the one knee down stance is a major factor. It helps with framing but makes blocking balls and throwing more difficult.

#5 Channing1964

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Posted 24 August 2020 - 04:15 AM

yeah, nobody cared about Garver's pop time when he hit 31 bombs. Jeffers looks kind of overmatched to me , sorry for all the excited new comers. I dont think Garver is as good as he was in 2019, or as bad as he has been so far. Say all you want about Tanner Swanson but he's gone now. Avila is a wily veteran and a very good back up and handler of the bat but if he has to play every day we are in Trouble! It is what is. Garver will come back and be a lot better. Avila will do what Avila always has done. and we'll roll the dice with those guys in the tournament. POP stats are cool to look at but Realmuto only threw out 46% of the base stealers last year. If anybody noticed in 10 games Kansas City stole bases at WILL. The only thing that stopped them was the inability of guys like Mondesi, Phillips, and Lopez to even get on base. Give me a guy that blocks the bad ones, calls a great game, and handles the bat with common sense and Kewl.



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